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Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group C

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Coming off their first African title, Zambia gets a fortunate group draw to start their title defense. A refactoring Nigerian team is the group’s next threat, with two teams who’ve failed to impact recent tournaments rounding out Group C.

Like Group B, there is a top-heavy nature to this group, but while a team like Congo DR provided a threat at the bottom of Ghana’s group, the underdogs in this group sit waiting for a favorite to slip. A mistake-free mini-tournament should see the top two through.

Group C kicks off on Monday.

GROUP C: Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia

ZAMBIA

World rank: 39; CAF rank: 5; Best finish: Champions in 2012.

The Copper Bullets shocked the world in 2012, defeating tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire in the final to claim their first Cup of Nations. While that result sees Hervé Renard’s side carrying new expectations into South Africa, few are picking Zambia to make a run for a second title.

History: Though 2012 was the Copper Bullets’ first Cup victory, the team had made two previous appearances in the tournament final: 1974, 1994. Despite only limited success, Zambia have been consistent qualifiers for the competition, participating in 12 of the last 13 tournaments.

Players: Attacker Christopher Katongo (Henan Jianye, China) was player of the tournament last year. He’ll line up in support of 22-year-old Southampton striker Emmanuel Mayuka, one of two Copper Bullets playing in Europe’s big five leagues. The other, Stophira Sunzu (Reading, England), will anchor a defense featuring the team’s most-capped player, 35-year-old left back Joseph Musonda (Golden Arrows, South Africa). Isaac Chansa (Henan Jianye) will feature in midfield, while 21-year-old Chisamba Lungu (Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia) is expected to get the call on the right side of Renard’s attack.

How they’ll play: Zambia’s lack of quality in midfield forces them to rely on the counter, something they proved adept at executing last year. It is, however, possible for them to be choked out of games, something that may explain their mediocre results since last year’s title.

Outlook: The Copper Bullets will need some breaks to replicate last year’s run, but making it out of group shouldn’t be a problem.

NIGERIA

World rank: 52; CAF rank: 9; Best finish: Champions in 1980 and 1994.

Internationally, Nigeria is still regarded as one of the Africa’s elites, a view that matches the pride and expectations of fans at home. But the luster is gone from a nation whose recent results fail to match their talent. The Super Eagles failed to qualify for Equatorial Guinea-Gabon and have not advanced from their World Cup group since their success in the 1990s.

History: Including their two titles, Nigeria has 13 top-three finishes — the most of any nation — but it’s been nearly 20 years since their last title. They haven’t made a tournament final in 13 years.

Players: After the disappointment of South Africa 2010, players like Peter Odemwingie, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, John Utaka and Obafemi Martins have been phased out of the team. The only players over 25 who are expected to start Nigeria’s first match are defender and captain Joseph Yobo (32, Fenerbahçe) as well as goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (30, Maccabi Tel Aviv). Attackers Emmanuel Emenike (Spartak Moscow), Victor Moses (Chelsea), and Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow) average just over 22 years old, while 25-year-old John Obi-Mikel (Chelsea) is the old man in a midfield with Padova’s Nwankwo Obiorah and Real Betis’s Nosa Igiebor.

How they’ll play: Nigeria’s personnel has changed, but their play will largely be the same. Theirs is a stylish, flowing game that tends to work vertically as opposed to relying on possession. Particularly in their front three, the team has skill, pace, and potential, but despite the turnover in players, the question remains the same: Do they have a midfield to match?

Outlook: It’s an inexperienced squad but one that should be able to get out of the group on talent alone. Burkina Faso is capable while Ethopia’s stocking up. The Super Eagles’ inexperience is the risk.

BURKINA FASO

World rank: 92; CAF rank: 23; Best finish: Fourth place in 1998.

Having never qualified for a World Cup, Burkina Faso is the type of nation fans outside of Africa know little about. But with a number of players who play in prominent leagues, the Stallions are a more capable team than their lack of reputation suggests. The question is whether they can convert that talent, particularly in attack, to a team that can do more than merely keep up. Can Burkina Faso actually threaten anybody?

History: The team’s been a consistent qualifier for recent Cup of Nations, making eight of the last 10 editions of the tournament. Unfortunately they’ve only made it beyond the first round once: At home in 1998. Undone by their inability to score goals, the Stallions have been insignificant participants.

Players: Moumouni Dagano’s (Al-Sailiya, Qatar) 24 goals in 58 appearances make him Burkina Faso’s most-proven scoring threat, but left wing Jonathan Pitroipa is their most dangerous player. One of the main threats for Rennes in Ligue 1, the 26-year-old has been unable to find the same success for his national team (four goals in 34 appearances). Now’s the time for him to step up.

Marsielle’s Charles Kaboré plays at the base of a midfield purposing the more advanced Alain Traouré (Auxerre, France), with Lyon’s Bakary Koné the team’s best defender.

How they’ll play: A solid team that’s capable of containing opponents, Bukina Faso’s style typically lacks drive doing forward. The can play either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, both of which will lack drive from the midfield. It’s unclear how head coach Paul Put can solve that problem.

Outlook: This is a team that could take advantage of Nigeria’s inexperience, but not if the Super Eagles play to their potential. The Stallions are waiting for somebody to fall before breaking back through into the quarterfinals.

ETHIOPIA

World rank: 110; CAF rank: 31; Best finish: 1962 Champions.

It’s been 31 years since Ethiopia has qualified for a major tournament. To do so, the former Champions needed five goals over two qualifying legs, eventually advancing past Sudan on the away goals tiebreaker. At 31st in the region, they are this year’s lowest-ranked qualifier.

History: Ethiopia won the third Cup of Nations and qualified for each of the first seven tournaments. Since, the Walya Antelopes have only qualified twice and not since 1982. They haven’t advanced beyond group play since the year they won the title.

Players: Nineteen of the squad’s 23 players are domestic-based, with Minnesota-raised NASL forward and former U.S. U-level player Fuad Ibrahim one of the exceptions. He’s part of a concerted search for new Ethopian talent.

Defender Degu Debebe captains the team. He’s been capped 44 times and will be partnered in central defense by Saint George teammate Abebaw Butako. (Seven Saint George players are in the squad.)

Twnety-five year old Addis Hintsa (Dedebit, Ethipoia) holds down the midfield, with Egypt-based Saladin Said (Wadi Degla) leading the attack.

How they’ll play: Inconsistently. Doing forward, the Antelopes are capable of goals (as they showed against Sudan), but they tend to play on the counter while paradoxically leaving an inconsistent defense excessively exposed.

Outlook: The Ethiopians are ambitious, but their ambition is more likely to be rewarded in their quest to qualify for Brazil. They’ll need both breaks and luck to get out of this group.

SCHEDULE

Monday, Jan. 21, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Zambia versus Ethiopia
Monday, Jan. 21, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Nigeria versus Burkina Faso
Friday, Jan. 25, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Zambia versus Nigeria
Friday, Jan, 25, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Burkina Faso versus Ethiopia
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Burkina Faso versus Zambia
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Ethiopia versus Nigeria

Wild guess order of finish:

1. Zambia (7 pts.)
2. Nigeria (5 pts.)
3. Burkina Faso (2 pts.)
4. Ethiopia (1 pt.)

Report: NASL’s New York Cosmos terminate all player contracts

SO KON PO, HONG KONG SAR - FEBRUARY 19:  Daniel Szetela (R) of New York Cosmos and Siu Kwan Chan of South China in action during the 2015 Lunar New Year Cup match between South China and the New York Cosmos at Hong Kong Stadium on February 19, 2015 in So Kon Po, Hong Kong.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
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As we await the future of both the North American Soccer League and its champion New York Cosmos, another dark cloud arrived regarding both.

Empire of Soccer reports that the Cosmos have terminated all of its player contracts, putting a 2017 season into the neighborhood of improbability.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

New York’s staff is on furlough, and the club has been “on the brink of collapse” for weeks (if not longer).

The USL avoided having its champion collapse by finding new owners for the Rochester Rhinos in the offseason. Will New York be able to do the same?

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U.S. Soccer announces Players of the Year nominees

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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U.S. Soccer unveiled the finalists for its top 2016 Male, Female, and youth awards on Monday.

MLS stars Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey are joined by Geoff Cameron and Bobby Wood as top men’s player nominees. The winner will be announced on the eve of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final.

[ MLS: Best XI has historic American low ]

Stoke City’s Cameron and Hamburg’s Wood are the European-based players on the list, while Fabian Johnson did not make the cut. Dempsey has been limited by heart problems, but still found a way to the list.

John Brooks and Christian Pulisic are also notable exceptions, though the latter is a finalist for the younger award.

The five-woman list for Female Player of the Year sees Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Becky Sauerbrunn vying to finish second behind Carli Lloyd (Sorry, we couldn’t resist even with Heath’s incredible season).

The Young Male award promises to be a showdown between Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), though it’s difficult to see the latter edging the former. Also in the frame are Spurs back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Atlanta United teenager Andrew Carleton and U.S. U-17 star Josh Sargent.

The Young Female nominees are midfielders Emily Ogle and Andi Sullivan, defenders Kaleigh Riehl and Karina Rodriguez and forward Ashley Sanchez.

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MLS Best XI has just two Americans (and that’s fine)

FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, center, heads the ball near Seattle Sounders defender Zach Scott, second from left, in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat FC Dallas 3-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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MLS released its season’s Best XI on Monday, and it’s the least American bunch in the history of the award.

Some have asked whether this be a concern. The short answer is: As long as you’re not a xenophobe, probably not.

There’s no question the league is better than ever, so in that sense no one should worry that only Matt Hedges and Sacha Kljestan earned nods in the league’s 3-4-3.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

Several times the league saw five Americans in its Best XI, and once it was four, but this year’s duo marks a new low.

MLS Best XI
GK – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union / Jamaica)
D – Matt Hedges (FC Dallas / USA)
D – Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy / Belgium)
D – Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids / Sweden)
M – Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas / Argentina)
M – Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy / Mexico)
M – Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls / USA)
M – Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact / Argentina)
F – Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls / England)
F – David Villa (New York City FC / Spain)
F – Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC / Italy)

Now of course the next question is, “Where do players 12-24 come from?” Let’s make a quick second XI (and include Nicolas Lodeiro despite his half-season status because, well, did you watch any MLS this year?):

GK – David Bingham (San Jose / USA)
D – Ronald Matarrita (New York City / Costa Rica)
D – Laurent Ciman (Montreal / Belgium)
D – Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas / USA)
M – Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle / USA-Cuba)
M – Darlington Nagbe (Portland / USA)
M – Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC / USA)
M – Diego Valeri (Portland / Argentina)
M – Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle / Uruguay)
F – Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC / England)
F – Ola Kamara (Columbus / Norway)

A bit better, huh? And Dwyer could be American in under a year. Next up would probably be several Americans (Dax McCarty, Luis Robles, Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Drew Moor).

The idea of better players shouldn’t be about Americans racking up the top spots, rather U.S. players being improved by the level of competition.

Look at the Premier League’s Best XI, the PFA Team of the Year, which had a total of four Englishmen (five if you include English-born Jamaican back Wes Morgan). While some will argue for a cap on foreign players — which MLS has — you don’t mess with what makes it great.

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After latest loss, Hull City gets blunt: “We need help”

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Curtis Davies of Hull City jumps with Calum Chambers (25) and Victor Valdes of Middlesbrough (26) during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Hull City players and staff are not being bashful.

Mired in the drop zone and following yet another loss, this one a relegation six-pointer at the hands of hosts Middlesbrough, Tigers were speaking out on the talent at the KC Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Manager Mike Phelan said “hopefully” there will be action by the club in the January transfer window, as the club continues its quest to stay in the Premier League.

Phelan said the club is lacking “firepower”, and veteran defender Charlie Davies put it even more plainly.

From the BBC:

“We need help. We made signings in the summer and they have done their bit but they were all last-minute. We are thin up top and we need someone who can put the ball in the net.”

Hull went through a mess during the summer, with player acquisition problematic and manager Steve Bruce quitting the club. After a hot start led to Phelan getting the job on a permament basis it’s clear that, like Swansea boss Bob Bradley, this isn’t about who’s in the dugout.

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